UN aid chief urges G20 to prevent mass starving in Afghanistan

UN aid chief urges G20 to prevent mass starving in Afghanistan
Half of Afghanistan's population risks not having enough food to eat as winter draws near, the UN's humanitarian chief has said
4 min read
The UN predicts that it will have to provide food to 12 million Afghans this winter [Getty]

The UN humanitarian chief had a dire message for leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies meeting this weekend: Worry about Afghanistan because its economy is collapsing and half the population risks not having enough food to eat as the snows have already started to fall.

Martin Griffiths said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press that “the needs in Afghanistan are skyrocketing."

Half the Afghan children under age five are at risk of acute malnutrition and there is an outbreak of measles in every single province which is “a red light” and “the canary in the mine” for what’s happening in society, he said.

Griffiths warned that food insecurity leads to malnutrition, then disease and death, and “absent corrective action” the world will be seeing deaths in Afghanistan.

He said the World Food Programme is feeding four million people in Afghanistan now, but the UN predicts that because of the dire winter conditions and the economic collapse it is going to have to provide food to triple that number - 12 million Afghans - “and that’s massive.”

WFP appealed this week for $200 million to finance its operations until the end of the year, and Griffiths urged countries that suspended development assistance for Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover on 15 August, including the United States and European countries, to transfer that money for desperately needed humanitarian aid. He noted that the European Union already shifted about 100 million euros to humanitarian work.

Griffiths said the current crisis is the result of two large droughts in the past few years, the disruption of services during the conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government and the collapse of the economy.

“So, the message that I would give to the leaders of the G20 is worry about economic collapse in Afghanistan, because economic collapse in Afghanistan will, of course, have an exponential effect on the region,” he said. “And the specific issue that I would ask them to focus on first, is the issue of getting cash into the economy in Afghanistan - not into the hands of the Taliban-- into the hands of the people whose access to their own bank accounts is not frozen.”

Griffiths said it’s also critical that frontline health workers, teachers and others get their salaries paid.

He said many ideas are being discussed with increasing urgency to get liquidity into the market and his message is that an urgent response is needed this year, not next spring.

Among the ideas are physically taking cash into Afghanistan, which Griffiths said has “lots of difficulties,” and using the local Afghani currency. But the issue is how to get traders to safely provide Afghanis for use by humanitarian organizations, he said, and “they will probably only do that if they think that they can get external currency for those Afghanis.”

Griffiths warned of exponential effects of an economic collapse, saying the first worry is that if people don’t get services, food, schooling for their children and health care they will move, either inside the country or flee Afghanistan to survive.

The second worry, he said, is the growing problem of terrorism, “and that is something which usually breeds in times of uncertainty and in times of suffering.”

“And that would be a terrible legacy to visit all the people of Afghanistan,” Griffiths said. “So far, I think we’re just holding our breath about the stability of the country and talking daily to the Taliban about what they need to do, for example, to make sure that women and girls have their rights.”

The undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs said the Taliban need to ensure the rights of women and girls “because that’s part of stabilising Afghanistan.”